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Author: Clif

Mise-en-scène 101

I ran across this brilliant article and infographic on Mise-en-scène at ShoHawk. The term has always been a bit confusing to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. As I digested this, I basically came to understand it as the collection of aesthetic choices between the director and production designer (as informed by the script, of course) that results in how meaning and emotion are visually captured within the frame and communicated to the audience.

I may add more to this post later 😉

Hey Sound Guy!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me, with two different opportunities to crew up as a sound recordist on documentary projects.

I can’t talk about the first one, but last Thursday was an all-day shoot for a documentary on the Morris Trophy, which is a college football trophy awarded annually to the best offensive and defensive linemen, as voted on by the players on opposing teams. The offensive winner for 2017 was UW Husky Vita Vea, which was a bonus for me since I work for UW.

There were 5 or 6 solo interviews, a chat between the two award winners, and the award ceremony itself, so I was really able to work in many different scenarios, which was rewarding. Initial reports from the editor is that the audio was great, which is always nice to hear. 🙂

Next up, I’m starting a screenwriting class with Brian McDonald tomorrow night that runs 6 sessions over the next 3 weeks. I’m really looking forward to gaining some good insights.

First Things First

Tonight was 2018’s first First Tuesday workshop from TheFilmSchool, featuring Brian McDonald speaking about story and clone characters. Brian is the author of Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate (now at the top of my reading list), among many other things.

The main topic of clone characters was demonstrated using clips from some classic films that made great use of the device:

  • The Wizard of Oz
  • A Christmas Carol (the Patrick Stewart version)
  • Marty (1955) written by Patty Chayefsky
  • Tootsie

Here are a few other tidbits from my notes:

  • Story is the telling or retelling of a series of events leading to a conclusion.
  • Why we tell stories – survival. That’s why we need conflict.
  • Theme – or as Brian refers to it, armature – should take the form of a sentence and be provable (or disprovable).
  • As writer or director, always know who wins the scene.
  • Contrast is how we see everything.

One thing I appreciated about Brian’s workshop was his openness about his dyslexia, and how it actually was a positive force for him in some ways. As an Aspie, I could relate, and I think it’s important for voices like Brian to speak about their neurodiversity. It’s very empowering and it helps people find meaning in places they might not expect.

Brian, if you read this, it was a pleasure meeting and learning from you, and I look forward to more opportunities in the future. Check out TheFilmSchool.com for upcoming chances to learn from a master.

Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence – Lane Shefter Bishop

This is a brilliant book focused on one thing: writing the best logline possible.

It’s common to see back cover blurbs like “the only book you’ll ever need…”, but in this case, I think it’s really safe to say this book covers the art of writing logline to the fullest. The author clearly defines what a logline should be, and what it isn’t, and breaks it down into 3 big questions: who is the protagonist (really), what do they want, and what’s at stake. There are tons of guidelines and tips on crafting the perfect single-sentence pitch, backed up by years of experience.

The book goes further than most by offering not only real world examples, but full-on exercises for readers to work through, with answers and explanations. There’s also a “Logline Cheat Sheet” towards the end of the book that I can see referencing for the rest of my writing career.

“Clearly, the payoff is that a successful logline not only sells the creative work upon completion, it also keeps the creator inexorably on-point throughout the process. That’s why I always tell people to try to design their logline first, while they are fleshing out what they want to write, and then get started on the bulk of their masterpiece.”
― from “Sell Your Story in A Single Sentence: Advice from the Front Lines of Hollywood”
I would add this to the list of “must have” books for creative writers, both for learning how to talk about and sell your writing, and for better focusing your writing on the core of the story.

Making It Big in Shorts – Kim Adelman

This book has a great cover and seems well-structured, which is why I didn’t hesitate much in buying it. I really wanted a great book on making short films. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

In reality, the book seems like a collection of blog articles turned into a book. There are some decent tips in this book, but no topic is really covered in any depth. At the worst, there are are some “false starts”, like the section on “Foolproof Formulas” which could have been a great source of inspiration, but ends up reading like a comedic listicle of things you could try and why you shouldn’t. There’s also a section on “How to be a Good Director” in the chapter on essential how-to’s, where two of the six tips are “Be an Egoist” and “Wear a Baseball Cap”.

All-in-all, I can’t recommend this one.

Splatter Flicks: How to Make Low-Budget Horror Films – Sara Caldwell

This is a well-written start-to-finish guide for aspiring horror filmmakers. I’ve read this book twice and will probably read it again.

Published in 2006, this book does begin to show its age a little towards the end, but it’ still very relevant. While author Sara Caldwell does have a few credentials of her own, this book really shines due to the input from moderately accomplished filmmakers whose films you can actually find and watch. Splatter Flicks contains plenty of tips and anecdotes from directors who successfully turned a few thousand bucks into distributed films, making it both educational and inspiring.

In my opinion, a great how-to book in film or music can’t be something you just read straight through; rather it should entice you down little rabbit holes that expand your experience beyond what a few hundred or so pages can cover. I found myself putting the book down regularly to check out a film or book referenced within, and the “Notable Directors of Horror” sidebar towards the middle of the book is an education unto itself.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in making low-budget genre films.

Show Don’t Tell: Micro-Budget Filmmaking

After listening to a few of Noam’s podcast episodes, if you still feel like something outside yourself is preventing you from making a film, you should probably find a different hobby.

If I had just one word to describe the Show Don’t Tell podcast series, it would be empowering. Spending a few hours listening to Noam speak about micro-budget filmmaking has left me feeling ultra-confident that I can actually do this thing. Do yourself a favor and check it out. I especially recommend “When To Quit Your Day Job And Pursue Filmmaking Full Time” if you feel yourself needing a kick in the pants.

Especially if you’re having trouble getting started and find predefined structure helpful in getting things done, Noam’s advice on scheduling and budgeting micro-budget films may turn out to be your holy grail. In the episode entitled “From Idea to Finished Film: Making a Micro-Budget Feature in 6 Months” (described in detail in this article on Noam’s blog), Noam sets out a schedule of how to get from development to post-production. The production schedule is further broken down into a 12-day shooting schedule in “Scheduling A 12 Day Micro-Budget Feature Film Production“. Noam also details a budget breakdown in “Breaking Down The Budget For A $12,000 Feature Film“, based on his ideal five person micro-budget crew.

As you can see, between Noam’s podcast, website, and newsletter, there’s enough solid, actionable information to plan out your feature film in detail, and in a way that really seems achievable without necessarily “getting noticed” or “getting lucky”.

Writing Your Life

I read a post by Benjamin P. Hardy this morning that aligned quite well with my current mental state.

The more I study writing, the more I realize how much narrative impacts our daily lives. Almost everything we hear, read, and watch is story. We even speak to ourselves with narrative in our thoughts. History, religion, news… all stories.

Furthermore, as Benjamin’s article points out, we’re all really actors, playing out the scenes of our lives as characters we’ve designed for ourselves. As an Aspie, it’s painfully obvious to me at times how much of life is really just “acting normal”, which helps spectrumfolk like me fit into the neurotypical narratives that surround me every day.

I guess the point is, for me at least, that studying film helps me be a better version of myself, allowing me to purposely structure my goals in a way that moves me forward through my own hero’s journey. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Shonda Rhimes Masterclass

There are tons of online courses for filmmaking, but if you’re the kind of person who wants to go straight for the best, you should definitely be looking at MasterClass.com.

I signed up early on and completed the Werner Herzog masterclass on filmmaking (which I’ll review separately soon), and have also been working through the ones by Aaron Sorkin (on screenwriting) and Kevin Spacey (on acting). I paid $90 a pop for these courses individually, so when MasterClass recently began offering their all-access pass at $180 a year, I received the first year for free!

I immediately signed up for the Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television course and binged my way through it within a couple of weeks. Like many of the other students, I plan on going back through the course again at a slower pace because there’s so much information to absorb. A huge benefit of this style of video course is the ability to go back and review specific sections over again, and I’ve already taken advantage of that with the Herzog course.

This course, as with all the MasterClass offerings I’ve sampled so far, benefits from top-notch production. The lessons are well-structured, with case studies of actual episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Shonda is brilliant and a better teacher than most, making the lessons almost entertaining to watch. Fans of Shonda’s shows definitely won’t want to miss this unique behind-the-scenes perspective, but even if you’ve never seen an episode, the included clips, scripts, and other provided materials will get you through.

Shonda covers writing topics like character creation, story structure, and dialogue, as well as pitching, creating story bibles, showrunning, and working in a writers’ room. The 30 video lessons are packed with amazing tips and anecdotes that make the lessons truly memorable and give a rare insider’s perspective on showrunning.

Even among other MasterClass offerings, this is the best online class on filmmaking I’ve taken so far (sorry, Mr. Herzog), and I can’t recommend it highly enough.